Thursday, April 28, 2011

When in Rome. . .

When we arrived at Athens airport to check in our luggage, we were given a Boarding Pass that said our flight was leaving from Gate B07, so off we trotted to said gate in preparation for loading. Only to discover that the plane boarding at that gate was going to Paris. . . Shelley and I didn't really mind as we have said we would like to go back to Paris, but we were a little worried about our accommodation. Turns out we were meant to be at B03, which thankfully they figured out in time to make an announcement about! However, whatever gate we were on, it didn't really matter as, in true Easy Jet style, the plane was late!! We were meant to be leaving at 10.50am and we didn't even get on the plane until 11!! We eventually did get on the plane however and after a small hop we landed in Roma!! We rushed off to pick up our luggage and attempt to find the bus that would take us into the city centre, we needn't have bothered. We could have walked to the baggage claim, we could have crawled to the baggage claim, hell we could have skipped twice around the whole airport before going to the baggage claim and still have beaten our luggage!!
Anyway, our luggage eventually arrived (and actually our luggage, because in spite of Shelley telling me to just grab a pack, any pack it doesn't matter which one, I waited for ours to arrive) and went off in search of a bus to the city centre.

We found the hostel very easily as it was only a 200 metre walk from where the bus dropped us off, we checked in and then crashed out for a couple of hours as we had been up since 6am.

After we awoke we went for a bit of an explore around our area which is what we normally do on our first day in a new city. We got a bit hungry and decided to stop somewhere for dinner. We went to this really cute looking restaurant called De Famiglia (The Family) where we ate Salad, Pizza and Tiramisu (mmmm, tiramisu). The waiter was VERY interested in Shelley and kept trying to persuade her to go dancing with him later. He even gave her his number and told her to call him at 11.30 which is when he was finishing work. As Italy is a Catholic country, Shelley and I are generally quite circumspect when in public together, but she was still wearing her wedding ring and I did point out she could have invented a fake husband. . .Anyway, dinner was very lovely however when we asked for the cheque we got told 'no' as our waiter didn't want to let Shelley go. We started to have visions about what 'The Family' might do to us if we insulted them. . .Eventually the cheque came, we paid and left with Shelley firmly saying that we were not going back to that restaurant again, not only would we not visit that restaurant again but we would also not go down the street that the restaurant was located on for the rest of our stay!

The hostel we were staying at had a deal with a bar next door called 'Living Room' that meant we could drink there for €3 so we spent our evening in there drinking while a. . .foo. . . .foot. . .football (?) match was on, it looked a lot like soccer to us. We met a couple of Americans who were about to visit Auckland for a couple of days so we gave them some tips on what to do while they were there and around midnightish we crawled up to our dorm and crashed out. Our alarm was set for an early wake up as breakfast was from 7.30-9.30 but um, well, it sorta didn't happen. . .

When we finally did wake up, I have to admit I felt pretty guilty about sleeping the day away in the great city of Roma so we got up and left on our first adventure pretty quickly as we had discovered the night before, we had arrived in time for the last day of the Rome Cultural Week. Now you may be thinking, 'thats nice but what has that got to do with the price of fish'? well it meant that lots of places had no admission charge all day. This also meant that lots of people were also taking advantage of this fact. The first place we visited was just 5 minutes from our hostel. Terme di Diocleziano is a large museum built on one of the ancient bath sites for the Roman Emperors back in the day. There were very lovely gardens attached and the museum was fill of all the artifacts that had been excavated in the area. The buildings themselves were also very impressive.

There always comes a point when visiting museums when, you either can't read the info on the artifacts as it is not in your language or, you think if you read anymore museum-wank your head will explode. In these cases I always take to making up my own explanations for things. These I explained to Amber are primitive smurf houses - before they moved into the modern mushroom!

So there were these carved stone heads included in the outside scenery. The explanation for them was that they were commissioned by some emperor and at some point would have been hung on the wall, however my theory is that the placement of them now (they are sticking up out of hedges) is to freak the hell out of all all the tourists who don't immediately see them until they are right in front of them and then get a bit of a surprise. (I think there is probably a little man in a booth somewhere watching on CCTV for amusement value).

Another pretty common feature in Rome was what Amber and I refer to as water features since our Barcelona trip.

The next place we visited turned out to be a church. We didn't realise it was a church until we got there and, as it was a Sunday and not visiting churches on Sundays is a rule for us, we didn't stay long. Then it was onto a bus and across the bridge to a place called Castel Sant Angelo (castle of angels) It was at this point that we found all the other tourists in the city. We ended up standing in line for about an hour. It was originally built as a tomb for the emperors but then some popes came along and decided that it should be a fortress instead. So they moved all the emperors out and installed some cannons. I'm not too sure where they put the emperors, but it is probably not really so important. The main structure of the castle is included in the city walls and it has a awesome view. Oh and it also has a couple of angels.

This is a photo of the Castel Sant Angelo, those dots at the bottom of it is the line of people not ants.

This is the bridge that we crossed.

These are of the view from the top.

After we got done there, we decided that rather than get back on a bus which reminded me of a London tube at rush hour, we would take a walk and check out some other places on our map that I couldn't really pronounce. Lots of them were water features. One place we ended up was Trevi Fountain. There is a custom that if you throw a coin over your left shoulder with your back turned to the fountain you will return to Rome one day, so this is a pretty popular place with the tourists and it was swarming. The fountain was beautiful with very clear water which must be filtered to keep it that way as most of the other water features we saw were no where that clean!

At some time around leaving Trevi Fountain we discovered that it was 7pm and therefore decided that we would walk home. At this point we had walked pretty much round the whole city so we figured that it wouldn't be too much effort to walk back . We stopped at the bar downstairs for a well earned glass of wine and discovered that they did free pasta for the guests at the hostel we were staying at. It was good pasta too. Anyway that was our first epic day.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Είναι όλα τα ελληνικά σε με

Translation: It is all Greek to me (us). Something we have learned from our travels, it is much easier to find our way around in a country that at least uses the same alphabet to us than one that doesn't. Anyway we arrived without any major problems with Easy Jet, the plane was a little late but thankfully that was the only thing, also we managed to luck out on the air attendants. One attendant was very amusing and asked the passengers for marks out of ten for the flight safety demonstration. At the end of the flight she reminded us to check for bags, coats and small children before disembarking the aircraft, I suggested to her she should try stand up comedy.

We managed to get to our hotel without any problems also. Amber has become such a pro at this by now that I don't even get that worried about it anymore. When we first started doing this I used to worry that we would not be able to find our accommodations or transport and we would end up spending our holiday under a bridge somewhere, well except for that time when we went to Malta and booked the tickets before checking available accommodation and very nearly did have to spend the week under a bridge...
Our first look at the area around where we were staying was not too inviting, it was pretty run down, some abandoned buildings, lots of graffiti and litter and some sort of dodgy looking people milling about on the street. Also we three are all agreed that we definitely walked passed a group of transvestite prostitutes who were in 'work' mode, so that was pretty much the first indication that we had not booked ourselves into the Hilton. Thankfully the hotel was very nice. It was very clean and the concierge was very friendly and he also spoke English.

The next morning we slept a bit later than planned and missed the breakfast provided by the hotel and so set off to hunt and gather our own. Just down the street we found a cafe with some outdoor tables where we parked ourselves in the sun in time to watch a group across the road converging, it appeared that a group of about 4 men where trying to 'encourage' another man to go with them. It looked like this man really did not want to go with this group of men and was attempting to resist while the rest of the group just stood there and looked on. Eventually they managed to get on either side of him and marched him down the street. We three looked at each other and tried to figure out what the hell we had just witnessed. It looked pretty suspect but I suppose there could be some innocent explanation for it all?

After a brief discussion we set of for the Acropolis. In the olden days to get to the site on which the Acropolis is located, it would have taken many days of travel and many horses. In the modern era all it takes is a tube ride. There is a rather largish hill to traverse though.

It is pretty amazing to think that these structures were built in 432BC and are 2568 years old. These are the oldest things Shelley has ever seen. The first 3 photos are the Parthenon, A temple to the Greek Goddess Athena, which Athens was named after and so is the patron god of the city. The last photo is of the Temple of Athena, which was built before the Parthenon, and dedicated to Athena's warrior aspect as she was also considered the God of war strategy. We think Athena must have also had an affinity for dogs as there were lots of them lying about in the shade of these various temples.

The view of Athens from the Acropolis.

Next on our exploration was the Theatre of Dionysus which is located at the bottom of the Acropolis.

This amphitheatre was one we were allowed to enter, and had some very pretty statues carved on what remained of the stage.

We got kicked out of here before we were able to look around much as we think it was time for the Greek siesta. We caught a tube back to the centre square and went for a walk. Without realising we ended up pretty near our hotel and along the way we saw a display stating that the temperature was 28 degrees. We disagreed with this as we were not melting but a little later on we saw another one saying 21 degrees but this was at about 7pm and it had cooled down quite a bit.

We stopped at a semi swanky looking place for lunch, mainly because it had outside tables and we were all trying to soak up as much sun as possible to make it through the pathetic excuse the English call 'summer'. We planned to have cake and wine for lunch (hold your nagging, we were on holiday) and Amber and I decided to order a bottle of wine to make things easier. Not too easy though at the damn menu wasn't very helpful at all to foreigners. In the end we asked for a bottle of medium white wine. Instead we got, a little who was dressed in a suit who came out to our table especially to open and pour our wine, (by this stage another person had brought us glasses). We came to the conclusion that this little man is kept in a box behind the bar and they only let him out when somebody orders a bottle of wine, that might explain why he seemed so happy when he was at our table, maybe he doesn't get exercised much! On top of the man we also were brought plates of canapes which we hadn't ordered and were not charged for. We assumed that it was because we ordered wine, maybe they were being responsible hosts and didn't think the cake we had ordered was enough of a meal to drink on. At any rate we certainly were not complaining.

Back at the hotel we asked our friendly concierge for information about an island tour that we wanted to take for the following day. Having spent a day in the city of Athens, we were keen to leave it. He advised us that we could get on a tour for the following day and the bus would pick us up from the hotel at 7:30am. At 7:45 the next morning he knocked on our door to ask if we could get ready quickly as the bus was downstairs waiting for us. It would appear that we had an alarm malfunction and didn't notice. Long story short we ended up taking a taxi to the wharf to meet the boat. Well this was an experience. We now know what Formula One drivers feel when they are racing. Our Taxi was a race car and all the other cars in Athens were competing against us. At several points I was too scared to look, Amber however did not have this luxury as she was stuck in the middle of the back seat and therefore could see all of our very near misses. She is lucky her hair did not turn white from this experience.

We made it to the wharf on time and boarded the boat and went in search of coffee. Not too long after we set sail for the first island named Hydra. It was beautiful, like something out of a postcard, or a travel magazine, People who picture Greece usually think of islands like Santorini. The lines of white and blue stone houses, and the clear blue of the sky and sea. Athens in nothing like this but Hydra is like a mini Santorini with purple flowers draping everywhere. If Athens is Dog Capital then Hydra is Cat Central. Cats were sun bathing everywhere and we only saw two cat sized dogs on the whole island. Hydra has no vehicles and all the transport of goods and people is done with donkeys. The men driving the donkeys are in charge of sweeping up the donkey's leavings and are very diligent in this task.

Back on board it was time for lunch while we cruised our way to the next island named Poros. Poros is a larger more populated version of Hydra without any of the smaller islands charm. Next stop was Aeginas. By this time we had all had a bit of a kip on the boat so were were all pretty dopey and decided to find a cafe for ice cream. then it was back on board to play cards for the trip home. The next day we actually managed to get up on time for our trip to the airport for our flight to Rome.
So that was Greece. In a nut shell, Athens is a noisy, smelly, dirty city, but the people are lovely and that makes all the difference when travelling somewhere new.